By: Premier – Hon. Joseph E. Farrell
Issue Date: July 13, 2020
Citizens, residents, members of the diaspora, our supporters across the globe and friends of Montserrat, a warm welcome to all of you.
Tuesday July 18th, 1995 marked a transitionary period for Montserrat, as the Soufriere Hills Volcano rumbled to life. Many of us can distinctly recall the sound of a low flying jet, along the southern corridors of Montserrat, in the villages of Kinsale, Gingoes, Trials and St. Patrick’s.
The awakening of the ‘GIANT’, as captioned by Sir Howard in his book “Montserrat Defining Moments”, significantly changed life from the way we knew it; The eruption brought changes to the island’s physical landscape, displacing our people, destroying lives and livelihoods, and rendering two-thirds of the island uninhabitable.
It is fitting therefore for us to set aside this week as a period of reflection, not only on July 18, 1995 but on the journey we have travelled as a people over these past twenty-five years.
For the period July 13th to July 20th, 2020, the Office of the Premier and the Montserrat Arts Council (MAC) presents a programme of commemorative events, geared at reflections on the path to recovery, celebrating the successes, and importantly showcasing the resilience of our people.
July 1995 has been etched in the record books of our history as a turning point, with far-reaching socio-economic impacts on the peoples of our beloved country.
• Financial assistance, supporting a voluntary evacuation scheme which provided for mass migration of our people to neighboring islands and the United Kingdom; resulting in our population dwindling from 10,600, pre-volcano to 3,338 in 1997. Following on from those dark years, we have steadily grown to 4,600 as of 2018;
• The loss of the more fertile agricultural land along the eastern corridor, Riley’s to Gages, deprived farmers and their families of a livelihood,
forcing them to become strangers in their homeland.
• We cannot forget the gross impact on our ports of entry—W. H. Bramble Airport in the East was decimated and Port Plymouth became inaccessible;
• The hub of government and private sector activity, our Capital Plymouth, was evacuated;
• The destruction of two-thirds of our beautiful island from Perches in the east to St. Patrick’s in the south: village after village lying waste with but a few houses doted in the landscape;
• Many of us had to flee our homes during the phased relocation northwards to Salem and beyond with an overnight bag; communal living in public spaces, such as schools, churches and shelters became our way of living, though temporary.
But in a spirit of resilience, we have survived, we have endured and we have overcome. If you search for the meaning of the word ‘resilience’, you would find Montserratians! Montserrat and Montserratians are the epitome of resilience. It is now engrained in our national psyche. And so we continue to rise and elevate as a people.
It has been a roller coaster journey, with its share of lessons learnt, but also major accomplishments and development activities.
We have settled in the North and have made strides in our re-development, in a number of areas to include:
• Housing developments in Look Out, Davy Hill, Shinnlands and Barzey’s;
• We have new ports of entry – Little Bay Sea Port, Gerald’s Heliport and now John A. Osborne Airport;
• Government Headquarters is fully operational in the Brades area;
• Permanent accommodation for the Ministry of Communication, Works, Energy and Labour; the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Housing and the Environment; Police Headquarters; The Fire Station and the Media Centre housing ZJB and the Government Information Unit (GIU);
• A business district, spanning from Brades to Little Bay, including the entertainment hub—the Marine Village;
• Look-Out Primary School has been established and we have seen the expansion of the Brades Primary School;
• Daycare /nursery centers in Salem, Look Out, and St Johns;
• We have a fully resourced Disaster Management Coordination Agency, and a top class Volcano Observatory.
These are just a few of our major government led achievements.
The private sector has also made significant inroads:
• In the tourism sector, hotels such as Tropical Mansions Suites, Guest Houses and Villas;
• Telecommunications services through Flow & Digicel;
• Bank of Montserrat has established its permanent corporate headquarters building; and so too has the Social Security;
• A Three (3) storey building for the St Patrick’s Co-operative Credit Union; and
• A first class Football field and stadium.
Importantly, the people of Montserrat have demonstrated resilience throughout this ordeal—as eruptive activity had prolonged for some ten years. Despite all, persons who previously owned homes, were able to rebuild and expand their assets, and others demonstrated the confidence that the North of Montserrat is safe, and also invested in home ownership.
Through it all we have received support from our partners and counterparts across the world. The UK Government continues to provide aid to Montserrat, along with financial support from the European Union, and other partners to include Regional and International Organizations and Agencies, Montserratians living overseas, citizens and residents, have all contributed in different ways towards the islands development.
But as we move forward, we must work collectively to achieve much more than we had before the volcanic eruptions.
My governments’ vision is to see Montserrat reduce its dependency on UK aid, and to achieve this we must create an environment and a partnership in which the private sector can grow and the youth can see themselves as key players in the new Montserrat.
It will be remiss of me to close without congratulating the planning committee for the volcano 25th anniversary activities, thank you for the work you have done to recognize a significant part of Montserrat’s history.
I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of the Calabash Festival Committee for their continued drive as they annually observe this aspect of Montserrat’s culture, heritage and history.
We have come this far by faith and through it all we will look back with confidence that we have achieved much, but there is much more to be accomplished.
In closing, I wish to borrow the phrase adapted by the Montserrat Christian Council for the Day of Prayer and reflection on Wednesday coming, “TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AND WE ARE STILL HERE!
To God be the Glory.